The NFC Championship Game will be between the Philadelphia Eagles (who looked dead just three weeks ago) and the Arizona Cardinals (who have looked dead, in Arizona, St. Louis and Chicago, for the better part of 60 years). The only two NFL Championship Games in Cardinal history were against the Eagles: 1947, a 28-21 Card win at Comiskey Park on the South Side of Chicago, and 1948, a 7-0 Eagle win in a blizzard at Shibe Park in North Philly. From 1949 to 2007, the Cards played in a grand total of 4 Playoff games. The Eagles at least won another Championship in 1960, but haven't won one since; and have reached the NFC Championship Game in 1980, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and now 2008, reaching the Super Bowl in the 1980 and 2004 seasons, but losing both times.
The AFC Championship Game will be between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens. I knew the Ravens were going to beat the Tennessee Titans. You know how I knew? Because the Titans' quarterback is Kerry Collins, and Kerry Collins is what he has always been: A bum.
Could it be an All-Pennsylvania Super Bowl? If so, I hope they don't "compromise" and let Ratface Joe Paterno flip the coin to start the game.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, today is the 40th Anniversary of Super Bowl III. January 12, 1969, at the Orange Bowl in Miami. New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7.
The Jets have gone to two AFC Championship Games since (1982-83 and 1998-99), but haven't returned to the Super Bowl. Forty years in the wilderness.
Fast fact with which you can amaze your friends, and I'll bet more than half of all Jet fans don't know it... or maybe they know it, but they've never really thought about it: How many touchdown passes did Joe Namath throw in Super Bowl III? The answer is... zero.
And yet an entire generation of New York and New Jersey football fans grew up thinking Broadway Joe invented the position of quarterback. As much as anything else, these kids were the reason I didn't become a Jet fan.
I have never properly thanked them.
Frankly, I'm not sure the Jets even have a reason to exist anymore. That 40-years-ago Super Bowl is beginning to seem more and more like a movie, one that didn't really happen. Namath is still alive to tell us about it, but how often does he do so anymore?
The new Meadowlands Stadium is coming along quite nicely. But I never thought the Giants needed a new stadium. The Jets, sure, because they were sharing with the Giants -- and will still be sharing with the Giants, even if the lease will be more favorable to them than at Wellington Mara's tin can on Route 3.
I just hope the place doesn't have the same wind problems. In fact, I'd like to present to you...
10 Things I Hate About the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
10. Horse Racing in the Winter. Isn't that considered cruelty to animals?
9. The Corporatism. "I was immortal for 15 years," said former Governor Brendan Byrne, an original investor in the Devils who got the Arena built and had his name put on it by a Democratic legislature in 1981. In 1996, a vengeful Republican legislature took his name off it. Why? Because Continental Airlines was offering a truckload of money for naming rights? That was a bonus. The GOP took Byrne's name off it as soon as legalities allowed because Byrne established the State's first income tax. The man had to balance the budget, something New Jersey's Republicans never seem to understand.
And while the Devils won their 2nd Stanley Cup while playing at the Continental Airlines Arena, and actually clinched their 3rd at the Continental Airlines Arena, and the Nets continue to play at the IZOD Center (a.k.a. "the I," a terribly doofy name), the Devils' 1st Stanley Cup was won at the Brendan Byrne Arena. And no shameless politician can ever change that fact.
8. Giants Stadium. Football player turned broadcaster and mystery novelist Tim Green called it "football in a tin can. Curse the Giants for ever leaving Yankee Stadium."
The stadium is big, but it's hardly an architectural marvel. It's not Soldier Field. It's not the Los Angeles Coliseum. You don't sense greatness in there, even if you know it's been home to Bill Parcells, Lawrence Taylor, or the 2007-08 miracle. It's ordinary. In fact, just about the only truly distinctive thing about Giants Stadium is...
7. The Wind. Also known as "The Hawk." Inside Giants Stadium, it turns field-goal attempts into pinball shooting, and it takes napkins, plastic cups and hot dog wrappers and sends them swirling around in a total mess.
In the parking lot, the wind blasts off the Hackensack River and sweeps through the parking lot with no trees to block it. It's terrible. (Yes, the wind can blast off the Passaic River and make coming out of a Devils game at the Prudential Center pretty bad in the winter as well, but it's not as bad as the wind at the Meadowlands.)
6. The Bus Service. It stinks. To get there by bus, you first have to get to Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Now, this isn't too bad if you're a fan of the New York Giants or the New York Jets. But suppose you're a fan of the New Jersey Nets? Or, from 1982 to 2007, you were a fan of the New Jersey Devils? Why should you have to change in New York? Especially when you're so close to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden? Home of the Knicks! And... oy... the Rangers? (Did I ever mention that the RANGERS SUCK? Well, they do!) And most of the people in Port Authority -- upstairs from the basement where Greyhound passengers go -- are fans of either the Knicks, or the Rangers, or both. Do you really want to mix with these people if you're a Nets or Devils fan? No, you do not!
And they don't even let you off within a short walk of either the Stadium or the Arena. You've got a ways to walk! Through that windswept parking lot! Oh, well, at least New Jersey Transit also provides rail service to the Meadowlands, right? Right?
5. The Train Service. Actually, there isn't any! Not yet, anyway! NJT is planning a spur of the Pascack Valley Line to the Complex, to open in time for the new stadium to open in 2010. Why couldn't they do that in time for Giants Stadium and the Racetrack to open in 1976? Or for the Arena to open in 1981? Or at any time in the last 35 years, from construction to today (which involves more construction)?
At least we can now get from just about anywhere in New Jersey to Newark's Penn Station and walk the 3 blocks to the Prudential Center to see the Devils, or Seton Hall basketball. And if Nets management has any sense, they'll abandon that might-never-happen Brooklyn boondoggle and move in at 165 Mulberry Street with the Devils and Pirates. Newark is a basketball city, and they'd love to have the Nets there.
Brooklyn is a basketball place, too, sure. But don't take our team! Have you forgotten what it's like to have someone else steal your team? (See "Dodgers")
4. The Parking Lot. The Meadowlands Complex was built for drivers. But the parking situation stinks. Not to mention that, when there's a Giants or Jets game, it's always sold out, 78,741 fans, and it turns Route 3, Route 120, Paterson Plank Road, Route 17 and the Western Spur of the New Jersey Turnpike into parking lots. So it's not so good for drivers, after all.
3. The Arena's banners, post-Devils. It looks a lot emptier without the Devils' banners. And the Seton Hall basketball team took its banners to the Prudential Center as well. When all that's left is the Nets' banners -- and they have as many title banners (ABA, NBA Eastern Conference and NBA Atlantic Division) as retired number banners, 6, which is a little off-putting -- and a banner honoring Bon Jovi, it's, it's, it's, how can I put this... lame. Almost as lame as Bon Jovi's music.
2. The Arena's Design. The seating area is bad enough, with the sound not carrying down to the court/rink, and the fact that it gets kind of drafty near the top. (Open windows? Not that I can see.) But they apparently designed the place after the Nassau Coliseum, 38 miles to the east. Two levels of seating, one level of concourse. You can't do that!
Even when the seating area is only half-full, it's like the concourse is jammed. It's bad enough when there's 16,234 fans, which would be a sellout on The Island. But when a full house of 20,049 is on hand at the Byrne Arena (it was 19,040 for hockey), forget it!
When the Prudential Center was built, they copied the new arenas in Philadelphia and Montreal: Three levels of seating, three levels of concourse. It works so much better. And while the wait for the food can be a little frustrating at The Rock, the wait for the bathroom isn't so bad. Contrast that with at the Meadowlands (or the Nassau Coliseum). It's interminable. (It's not quite as bad at Madison Square Garden, though. How come nobody ever copied that design?)
And the Number 1 thing I hate about the Meadowlands Sports Complex:
1. The Pedestrian Bridge. That creepy overpass over Route 120, connecting the parking lots of the Stadium and the Arena. It's now part of the Xanadu project, which might make it less creepy. But I wonder how many people got mugged there. It could also have been a shooting location for a horror film.
Well, I don't ever have to worry about that bridge again. Let's go Devils! And... please stay Nets?